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How do Racial and Ethnic Disparities Emerge in the Use of Restrictive Housing for Prison Rule Violations?

NCJ Number
Journal of Quantiative Criminology Volume: 39 Dated: 2023 Pages: 769-803
Date Published
35 pages

This study assessed whether race and ethnicity play a role in the use of restrictive housing for prison rule violations.


In light of empirical findings suggesting no substantive main effects of an incarcerated person’s (IP’s) race or ethnicity on the odds of placement in restrictive housing (RH) for rule violations, this study investigated whether these effects are dependent on offense severity and context, including characteristics of facilities that could theoretically increase stakeholder reliance on biased stereotypes and also prison staff members’ perceptions of danger and order in a facility. The study found no significant main effects of an IP’s race or ethnicity on the odds of RH placement for rule infractions, either at the time of the incident or as punishment after a hearing, once the types of violations were controlled. Upon further investigation, the authors found that African American and Latinx IPs were more likely to receive RH for certain insubordination-related violations, which may invoke greater punitive discretion. Race effects were also stronger in prisons with tighter security, where officers generally relied less on IPs’ acknowledgements of their formal authority for rule enforcement, and in facilities for men. Variance in the magnitude of racial and ethnic disparities in the use of RH for rule violations makes sense across prison settings and, as opposed to general race and ethnicity effects, should guide our understanding of the sources of these disparities with the goal of reducing their impacts. Multilevel analyses of race and ethnicity effects on RH decisions, both at the time of the incident (pre-trial) and after the rule infraction hearing, were conducted for all persons admitted to Ohio’s prisons between 2007 and 2016 and found guilty of prison rule violations (N1 = 81,673; N2 = 33). (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2023